NASCAR Nextel Cup driver
Born September 17, 1975, in El Cajon, California; son of Gary (a heavy-machine operator) and Cathy (a school bus driver) Johnson; married Chandra Lynn Janway (a model), December 11, 2004.
Addresses: Contact—Hendrick Motorsports, 4400 Papa Joe Hendrick Blvd., Charlotte, NC 28262-5703. Home—Charlotte, NC.
Raced in off-road competitions; began racing trucks off-road and in stadiums; raced in the American Speed Association's short-track series, 1997–2000; started racing in Busch series, 2000; entered NASCAR series, 2002. Winner of NASCAR Nextel Cup (formerly Winston Cup) races, including: the Auto Club 500, MBNA 400 and MBNA America 400, 2002; NASCAR Nextel All-Star Challenge, Coca-Cola 600, New England 300 and Sylvania 300, 2003; Carolina Dodge Dealers 400, Coca-Cola 600, Pocono 500, Pennsylvania 500, UAW-GM Quality 500, Subway 500, Bass Pro Shops MBNA 500 and the Mountain Dew Southern 500, 2004; Budweiser Shootout, UAW-DaimlerChrysler 400, Coca-Cola 600, MBNA RacePoints 400 and the UAW-GM Quality 500, 2005; Daytona 500, UAW-DaimlerChrysler 400, Aaron's 499, NASCAR Nextel All-Star Challenge, Allstate 400 at the Brickyard and the Subway 500, 2006.
Awards: American Speed Association's Pat Schauer Memorial Rookie of the Year Award, 1998; NASCAR Nextel Cup Championship, 2006.
After several seasons filled with extraordinary triumphs and heartrending setbacks, Jimmie Johnson finally won the coveted NASCAR Nextel Cup title in 2006. Johnson began competing fulltime in the Cup series in 2002 and has finished in the top five in points every year through 2006 and was twice a runner-up for the championship. Johnson nearly won the title in 2005 but during the final race of the season, he blew a tire and flew into the wall. Once again in 2006, the title came down to the final race and a nail-biting finish. Before the start of the season-ending Ford 400 at the Homestead-Miami Speedway, Johnson knew a 12th-place finish would be good enough for the title. For Johnson and his crew, the race should have been fairly stress-free. However, flying debris ripped a hole in his car's nose causing an unexpected and lengthy pit stop near the start of the race. When Johnson re-entered the race after the repairs, he found himself in 40th place. Bit by bit, Johnson edged his way up through the field of drivers to finish ninth, earning enough points to win the title. "I worked my whole life for this," Johnson said after winning the Nextel Cup, according to the Miami Herald. "That weight fell off my shoulders. We've worked so hard to get to this point and we didn't want to let this one slip away."
The oldest of three, Johnson was born on September 17, 1975, in the San Diego suburb of El Cajon, California. Johnson grew up in a blue-collar family. His mother, Cathy, drove a school bus and his father, Gary, operated heavy machinery. At the age of four, Johnson could handle a 50cc motorcycle. He was racing by age five and won his first championship at age eight, racing larger 60cc motorcycles. Johnson learned from some of the best and found an early mentor in motocross and supercross champion Rick Johnson (the two men are not related). When Jimmie Johnson was seven, Rick Johnson attended one of his competitions and predicted a bright future for the pint-sized racer. During the race, Johnson approached a six-foot jump, sailed his bike 65 feet through the air and stuck the landing, though he later spun out into a crash. Rick Johnson was amazed watching Jimmie Johnson fearlessly attack the jump. "That was when I knew he had the talent to go into the corner at 190 mph," Rick Johnson told USA Today's Nate Ryan.
As a teen, Johnson accompanied his dad to local off-road races. The excitement got under his skin and soon, Johnson was chatting with the buggy owners, trying to charm his way into a deal that would allow him to drive. After being offered the chance, Johnson quickly impressed the crowds. He spent several years racing trucks, both off-road and in stadiums, winning his first championship at 17. Racing was not his only sports passion. Before graduating from suburban San Diego's Granite Hills High School in 1993, Johnson played water polo and competed with the swim team.
Johnson's truck-racing career was fraught with ups and downs. During the 1994 Baja 1000 endurance race, Johnson—after 20 hours of racing—fell asleep behind the wheel in the middle of the Mexican desert, flipping his vehicle into a sand wash. Johnson and his co-driver were rescued two days later. For days, Johnson stewed over the mistake. From that day forward, Johnson strove to be a cleaner, more precise driver.
Johnson left California in 1996, when he was 21, and headed to Charlotte, North Carolina, hoping to forge a connection with race team owners. He was patient and persistent in his efforts. "I would go to places where I knew crew guys ate lunch and I'd sit there all through lunch just trying to meet people," Johnson told Sports Illustrated's Lars Anderson. Johnson's persistence paid off and in 1997 he raced in the American Speed Association's short-track series, though the switch to pavement racing took some getting used to. In his first race with the AMA, Johnson spun his car 12 times. He quickly mastered the discipline and in 1998 was named the series' rookie of the year. In 2000, Johnson graduated to the Busch series, NASCAR's second-tier race series. That year, Johnson raced to six Top 10 finishes and ended tenth in points.
Johnson entered the NASCAR Cup series full-time in 2002, after being recruited to drive the No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet Monte Carlo co-owned by Rick Hendrick and race champ Jeff Gordon. From the start, Johnson proved he was a contender and for a time in 2002 led in points standings—the first rookie to ever do so. Johnson proved to be a consistent driver but suffered many ups and downs. In 2004, he crashed twice in the first four of the Chase for the Championship final race series of the year.
Johnson has a strict pre-race routine that begins with a team meeting to discuss strategy. Next, he sits in the team hauler alone, emptying his mind and focusing on the race. During this time, he visualizes hitting his marks on each lap. After introductions over the loudspeaker, he gets into the car and gets settled. "Once in the car, I block everything out and just focus on the race," Johnson wrote on his website. "To me, it's the calm before the storm and this helps me gather my thoughts and prepare for the race." Though he guzzles liquids during a race, the 5-foot-11, 165-pound Johnson loses five to six pounds per race from sweating.
Johnson tore up the tracks during his first four seasons in the Nextel Cup series, though patches of bad luck kept him from the title. The 2006 season was no different. The season got off to a bumpy start when his crew chief, Chad Knaus, was fined and suspended for four races for making illegal modifications to Johnson's car during qualifying runs for the season-opening Daytona 500. However, Johnson went on to win the race. During the season, he also won the Aaron's 499 at Alabama's Talladega Superspeedway and the Allstate 400 at the Brickyard. He finished first in points standings, finally capturing the elusive title and a $6.2 million check. Formerly an eligible bachelor, Johnson married fashion model Chandra Janway in December of 2004. When he is not racing, Johnson enjoys tooling around on his boat or jet skis on the lake near their North Carolina home.
Chicago Sun Times, July 9, 2006, p. A76.
Joe Weider's Muscle & Fitness, May 2006, p. 40.
Miami Herald, November 20, 2006.
Sports Illustrated, February 27, 2006, p. 42.
USA Today, May 26, 2006; November 20, 2006, p. C1.
"Jimmie Johnson," FOX Sports, http://msn.foxsports.com/nascar/cup/driverCareerStats?statsId=213 (October 23, 2006).
"Jimmie's Bio," Lowe's Racing, http://www.lowesracing.com/jimmie/bio/index.html (October 23, 2006).
"Jimmie's FAQ," Lowe's Racing, http://www.lowesracing.com/jimmie/faq/index.html (October 23, 2006).
"Johnson's road has been long—but well worth wait," NASCAR.com, http://www.nascar.com/2006/news/headlines/cup/11/19/jjohnson.champion/index.html (November 20, 2006).